Studying 'gruesome' versions of Little Red Riding Hood a dream come true for librarian
Nova Scotia librarian Angela Reynolds to travel to Florida to study large collection
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Not Angela Reynolds.
The children's librarian from Bridgetown, N.S., will spend four weeks studying early versions of her favourite story, Little Red Riding Hood, in the stacks of the historic children's library at the University of Florida.
Reynolds has won the 2017 Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship. It comes with a cheque for $4,000 and will allow her to spend April immersed in the collection at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature in Gainesville, Fla., to gain a better understanding of how the tale has been adapted over the years.
The earliest version of Little Red Riding Hood she's found over the years is quite "gruesome," Reynolds told the CBC's Information Morning.
In it, she said, Little Red Riding Hood ends up accidently eating some of grandma after the wolf invites the girl to enjoy some "meat and wine" upon her arrival at grandma's house.
While the details are chilling, the little girl manages to escape, she said, whereas in the earliest published version of the story — written by French author Charles Perrault — Little Red Riding Hood doesn't make it out alive.
The Brothers Grimm wrote the version most people know, Reynolds said, in which the girl gets eaten but is subsequently saved by a woodcutter who helps her escape from the wolf's belly.
"I've loved this story since I was a kid," Reynolds said.
Like many children, she said, she was fascinated by scary stories, because it gave her a safe space to think about frightening things.
The story we should be telling
The versions of Little Red Riding Hood where she escapes without the help of the woodsman are closer to "the story we should be telling," Reynolds said. It doesn't frame the girl as a helpless victim; instead, the heroine is smart and she "figures out how to outwit the wolf."
Part of the lesson to be learned from the story, she said, is when you do find yourself in a bad situation, "you should be able to figure out how to get away."
Girl in a wolf coat
Reynolds estimates the Baldwin Library has around 400 copies of Little Red Riding Hood. "I'm not sure I'll get to all of them," she said, but she plans to study the illustrations as a way to map how the story has shifted over the years.
One of her favourites so far? The image of Little Red Riding Hood walking out of the woods wearing a wolf coat.
Reynolds said she will write a report on her research, which will be archived at the University of Florida and hopefully published in a journal.
She is also expected to do three presentations on the subject when she returns to Nova Scotia.
With files from the CBC's Information Morning